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Grads 2019: A degree to effect change in the world

2 April 2019: “I want to get to a point of education where I not only understand the world and how it works, but can do something practically to make it better,” said Omar Kassouh, Bachelor of Politics and International Relations graduate.

So, while he’s fresh from collecting his undergraduate degree at last week’s Graduations ceremony, Mr Kassouh is already undertaking a Masters in International Development, with a specific focus on foreign aid.

Mr Kassouh was born to parents of Lebanese descent. “My dad is a first generation Australian, while my mother migrated here from Lebanon,” he said.

Growing up in Yass, NSW, he thus had a unique perspective and deep interest in intercultural relations, awareness and understanding.

“My childhood is another driving factor for me,” Mr Kassouh said. “I had a great childhood … I was given everything I wanted, afforded every opportunity possible.

“My dad has always been a very charitable man, and I have witnessed him doing charity work all my life. I’m a practising Muslim, and my faith teaches me that it matters, to do good deeds.

“And maybe it’s the sum of all these things. The reason I want to do something with my life to help others, who haven’t had the same opportunities.”

Mr Kassouh initially wanted to study Law like his older brother, but soon found his attention captured and held by Politics and International Relations.

“I really enjoyed learning even more about other cultures, the aspects of the world that are different from my own,” Mr Kassouh said.

“I think being at UC really broadened my understanding and experiences of different cultures and nationalities, too,” he said. Living on campus, he found the University’s atmosphere to be immensely inclusive and welcoming, facilitating both friendship and exchange.

From the start of his undergraduate journey, Mr Kassouh also juggled a full-time job, working in the Australian Public Service (APS), at the Department of Jobs and Small Businesses.

While at the University of Canberra, Mr Kassouh joined the Refugee Action Club. “The more I learned about refugees, the more I was able to empathise with their situations,” he said.

He decided to travel to Palestine to do some volunteer work at one of the refugee camps there, but was unfortunately detained at the border and deported back to Australia.

“I wanted to get first-hand understanding of the situation in Palestine, and to help out where I could,” he said. “I was meant to do economic research at the West Bank Bethlehem refugee camp, the oldest camp there, and analyse how the camp was taking in its funding.”

“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out, and to be honest, the experience left me quite shaken,” Mr Kassouh said. “But in the end, it just made me more passionate about the path I’ve chosen.”

“It’s about trying to do something about a problem, rather than looking at a situation and just saying that it’s a problem,” he said. To that end, he would like to ultimately apply for positions internationally, and with non-government organisations.

“I really do just want to help out where I can – and I hope that I can make my parents proud by doing that.”